THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Spearhead from Space
Devil Goblins from Neptune
Eye of the Giant
Scales of Injustice
BBC
Terror of the Autons

Episodes 4 A publicity shot of Roger Delgado as The Master.
Story No# 55
Production Code EEE
Season 8
Dates Jan. 2, 1971 -
Jan. 23, 1971

With Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicolas Courtney,
Richard Franklin, John Levene, and Roger Delgado as "The Master".
Written by Robert Holmes. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed and Produced by Barry Letts.

Synopsis: The Doctor encounters his old enemy the Master again (for the first time), when the renegade Time Lord helps the Nestenes engineer a second invasion of Earth.


Reviews

Plastic Heaven by Dennis McDermott 27/6/97

I'm trying to imagine what it was like seeing the Master jump out of his TARDIS for the first time. That alone would make this one of the most important Who stories ever. Throw in the fact that it was the first appearance of Jo Grant also (a particularly favorite companion), and you can understand my affection for this story.

It isn't a very deep one. The Master comes to Earth to bring the Nestenes back to wipe out humanity. Why? Doesn't seem to be important. Nevertheless, it is a better story than the original Auton story, Spearhead from Space, thanks mostly to the prescene of Roger Delgado as the Master. We haven't established a favorite enemies list yet, but I'd bet the Master wins hands down. The Autons themselves are not very interesting; the Master, with his numerous attempts to kill the Doctor, is fascinating. He alone, driving both the Autons and his human chattel, keeps the story brisk. Some have complained the Master appears too often; I'm not sure he's appeared enough.

The only real complaint I have with this story is its ending. The Master suddenly realizes the mistake he's made and helps the Doctor expell the Autons? Too easy. But then, who said life is perfect?


Plastic Daffodils by Emily Moniz 6/12/97

Terror of the Autons was one of the many Who videos I sat down to watch on Thanksgiving. While my grandmother cooked turkey, I watched the Doctor be strangled by a phone cord, Captain Yates shoot a living plastic doll and Jo attacked by a daffodil. This was an interesting video, to say the least. This was one of those that you watch, snigger at the effects while they're driving the cars and moving the doll, while your mind is beginning to work.

Yes, the effects were rather pathetic at times. That is entirely forgiveable. Yes, the ending with the Master helping the Doctor was too sudden. Yes, there was no real reason for the Master trying to take over the Earth with the Autons, aside from the fact that he probably gets a kick out of it sometimes. The sheer beauty of Terror of the Autons was the Master himself. The inflateable chair that killed one of the buisness associates in the beginning was great, and the plastic doll had to be the ugliest thing I have ever seen. But the daffodils were postively beautiful. Think about what that could have done...it blows the mind. Also, the Master trying to kill the Doctor towards the end was a fine peice of acting. I personally liked the line: "You are a Time Lord. You are supposed to die with dignity!" It was delivered perfectly. Overall, very fine acting by Delgado, Pertwee and the rest of the cast.

I found Terror of the Autons to be great entertainment for a Thanksgiving afternoon. Of course, there were plastic daffodils on the table when I sat down to dinner. I knew it was coming. Touchè.


A Review by David Masters 15/1/98

Having been a moderately successful actor and an occasional director, Barry Letts appeared to find his niche as the producer of some of the UK's finest family drama (he went on with Terrance Dicks to produce the BBC's Sunday afternoon classics series). After seeing out Season seven, most of which was commissioned before his arrival, Letts really established himself with the self-directed Terror of the Autons.

In making this transition, Letts dropped the grittier, more realistic elements of season seven and replaced them with a warmer, more upbeat approach. The brightly coloured costumes, sets and locations used in Terror re-inforce this "feelgood" sensibility.

Letts also made changes to the cast. Out went the occasionally austere Liz Shaw and in comes the effervescent Jo Grant, effortlessly portrayed by Katy Manning. Delgado's Master was another instant success, although he would later be a little overplayed. Also new with this story was Richard Franklin's Mike Yates, a pleasant if unprepossessing character.

The story is quite straightforward, necessitated in part by the format changes being made, but no less effective or enjoyable for it. Whilst the Autons don't quite generate the same level of menace as they did in Spearhead, they are a most effective tool for the Master. The story has been criticized occasionally for some poor CSO, but it barely impinges on the story. The least successful effect is the devil doll, but its not enough to bring the story down.

Even if Terror never quite matches the gloomy or eerie atmosphere of the season seven stories, it still matches them in quality and often surpasses them in terms of entertainment value. And, as Letts had accurately surmised, good old-fashioned escapist nonsense is really what Doctor Who is all about.


Well it's no Spearhead from Space but it's still good by Mike Jenkins 8/12/01

Delgado is wonderful in his first performance as the master, scheming, snapping and hypnotising like there's no tommarow. Michael Wisher is particularly effective as Rex Farrell. His parents are well acted but a little cliched. The Autons aren't as well characterized here but are comical and fun so it balances out. Of particular comic note is the way the the Auton says undependable instead of unreliable or something like that. The action is the highlight of the story. It is truly action packed and season 8 is Pertwee's best season. Although certainley not of the calibre of Doug Adams, this season is some of the best blending of drama and humour that you will ever see in Doctor Who. Pertwee is a wonderful actor. Although I like some Doctor characterizations better, I like his almost as much.

The Master's plan is very well concieved and this is Richard Franklin's best performance in the program although unlike many of the UNIT regulars, he stays intellectualy strong throughout his reign on the show. Rossini is well characterized and his scenes with Pertwee are priceless but the one downside would be that the Autons are not as well used or realized as in their previos story and the plot isn't quite as interesting but still a solid 7-8/10. The man who played the Timelord who warned the Doctor is a brilliant actor. For another great performance by him, watch the telesnaps of The Highlanders some 4 years earlier in the program's history.


Terror of the send-up by Tim Roll-Pickering 18/3/02

Jon Pertwee's portrayal of the Doctor has often been compared to the film version of James Bond. Whether or not this is a realistic comparison is highly debatable, but like the Bond films Doctor Who starts off 1971 with a decisive step towards a formulaic set-up of the series which comes as a big letdown after the intense serious of the previous entry which in my humble opinion is the best in the entire series. Although Terror of the Autons is not as bad a letdown for Doctor Who as the film Diamonds Are Forever is for the Bond movies, it does nevertheless begin a process of almost sending up the show's format.

The plot basically revolves around the Master coming to Earth and using the Nestenes as part of a succession of attempts to cause general chaos on Earth and irritate the Doctor. It's not so much of a plot as a succession of set pieces demonstration the Master's tricks, ranging from shrinking people to death to hypnotism to the succession of uses of plastic for killing people. There's little depth to the story and it acts primarily as an introductory piece for the Master, Jo and Captain Yates. Although Spearhead from Space is an exceptionally good story, it doesn't need a sequel and it would have been much better overall to have introduced the series' major new villain in a totally original story.

Despite this Terror of the Autons has much to recommend it. Both the location work and the studio sets stand out but there is far too much use of CSO to generate effects and sets and it shows through both the telltale lines and general picture instability. The Autons themselves have been given new masks for the story but these are far less effective since they are much cruder than before. Roger Delgado makes a strong debut as the Master, showing just how well cast he is, but Jo is a big change from Liz and signals an increased willingness to send up UNIT, as does the presentation of the Brigadier in a number of scenes.

The story has not dated well, since modern trends have generally moved away from items such as plastic chairs and so much of the terror is less effective now. However the cliffhanger at the end of Episode Two is especially memorable since it takes everyday members of the police - normally considered such a trustable force that the Doctor's TARDIS is even disguised as a police box - and turns them into potential killers. It's easy to see why this story has gained a strong reputation but its weak plot is not strong enough to hold it up. 5/10


Essential Pertwee by Michael Hickerson 12/7/02

Long before Mary Whitehouse began her crusade to save the world from the violent images and content in Doctor Who, there were several Pertwee era stories that sought to scare the willies out the kids and send them scampering behind the sofa. But was it images of Daleks parading down the streets of London or Cybermen coming out of the sewers or even the Doctor himself locked in mortal battle for his life in the Matrix that sent the kids scurrying behind the sofa in the Pertwee years? Probably not so much. Instead, the Pertwee years were full of far more subtle ways of scaring the kids.

Writer Robert Holmes seemed to understand that the greatest horror could come in those things that make us feel the most safe, which is why his two Auton stories are so well done in terms of eliciting feelings of unrest. In Spearhead from Space, the quiet of an early morning is broken up by shop mannequins springing to life. And in Terror of the Autons, we see even more images of the ordinary turned into the extraordinary in an attempt to conquer the planet. This time around the Autons use plastic daffodils, cupie dolls, the circus, men with giant painted on smiles and, worst of all, policemen in their attempt to conquer the Earth.

It's little wonder that some of the images of the two Auton stories are so indelibly linked with not only the Pertwee years, but with all of Doctor Who in general.

On a lot of levels, Terror of the Autons is really nothing more than a great re-telling of Spearhead from Space. The Nestenes want to invade Earth and intend to do so by taking over a plastics factory and turning humanities own technology against them in the form of Autons. The main difference this time around is that instead of having a variety of human subjects serving their every whim, they have the newly arrived on Earth Master, a villain who has his own agenda that reaches far beyond the Nestene's simple plan to invade and conquer the Earth.

And it's really the presence of Roger Delgado and his incredibly charismatic performance as the Master that elevates Terror of the Autons beyond being a rather bland sequel. Delgado bring a sense of menace to the story and does a superb job as the Master, putting his stamp onto the role from his first moment on screen. The scenes with Pertwee and Delgado interacting are nothing short of magic and should be required viewing for any fan of Who -- whether new or old. I've seen Terror of the Autons as many times as any other story in the Pertwee era and no matter how much I've seen it, it always feels fresh, new and exciting. There's a timeless quality to it.

Terror of the Autons takes place in the happy medium of the Pertwee years. The Doctor's exile is still new enough that there's still some internal conflict between the Doctor and the Brigadier -- a great give and take throughout the story (even though it's not quite as crisp as the scenes between the two in Doctor Who and the Silurians). There's also the introduction of Katy Manning, who does quite well and her initial conversations with the Doctor are quite nice. A couple of scenes really stand out such as the Doctor not being able to tell Jo she isn't suitable to be his assistant and Jo's waking up from the Master's control and wanting badly to remember what happened so she can help the Doctor. The sense of team-work the production staff likes to recall is on full display here, but it's not the rather forced teamwork that we see later in Planet of Spiders, where UNIT only exists as the foils for the Doctor. Here you still get the idea that they are a crack military unit and that while everyone follows orders, there's not always a sense of everyone in the ranks being cut of the same cloth and getting along all the time. It makes the little scenes work so much better -- such as Mike Yates's trying to avoid telling the Doctor he was using a Bunsen burner to make a cup of cocoa.

Terror of the Autons is an immensely satisfying and quick-paced story. It's amazing how well Robert Holmes understood what elements made a superior Doctor Who story and how apparently effortlessly he could incorporate them all.

Terror of the Autons does start a trend to the Pertwee-era Master stories, but not one that I can really hold against it since it's the first time it's used. Time and again, the Delgado Master suffered from long-reaching plans that took months of planning and execution only to quickly get in over his head. We see that begin here as the Doctor points out that there is no way the Nestenes will see the Master as more than another human on Earth since he can't escape in his TARDIS. (Again, Holmes does a great job of sewing the seeds of this early by having the Doctor take the Master's demateralization circuit so the ending doesn't just jump out of left field at us). We'll see this come up time and again as season eight progresses, but since this is the first story of the year and the first Master story, it's not something you can hold against it.

About the only disappointment in the entire story is the cupie doll come to life. It's just not as convincing as it could be -- but then again, this is the early 70s and they do they best they can.

Other than that, Terror of the Autons is about as close to perfect as you get in the Pertwee years. If you're looking for a good place to start a Who fan in the Pertwee years, you can't go wrong with Spearhead from Space or this one. Essential Pertwee.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 11/3/03

Terror of the Autons is a mixed bag. Three debuts, a direct sequel story, an ode to the uses of chromakey (CSO), and a rethinking of the Earthbound format.

Debut number one: Josephine "Jo" Grant. An earnest, gung-ho flibberdigibit. A child figure for the Doctor to educate. Katy Manning's debut establishes what Jo will be right away. A step forward in that the character can be more action-oriented, but a definite step down as she assumes a much more traditional companion role, unlike her predecessor -- Caroline John as the mighty Liz Shaw. Overall, a solid, not spectacular beginning for Jo.

Debut number two: The Master. Big Roger Delgado oozes charm and menace in equal measure. His first scene with Rossini, and his subsequent theft of the Nestene unit and takeover at the radio telescope facility show his ruthless side in style. Big Rog underplays things for the most part, making the Master a strong adversary. The most interesting part of Delgado's portrayal is his ability in his more civil moments to still project the menace underneath. His only less-than-believable moment is in the climatic scene where he helps the Doctor repel the Nestenes. His conversion to the heroes side is abrupt. (I'll expand on this in a moment)

Debut number three: Captain Mike Yates. Not much except to be a bit of eye candy for Jo in this one. Not a great beginning, but The Mind of Evil atones for this.

While we're discussing characters, time to talk about Jon Pertwee's performance in this one. Arrogant gasbag comes to mind for the third Doctor in this one. He's rude to everyone in the cast, especially to the Brigadier. This is the first story to feature "classic" Pertwee as the fans are wont to remember him. Pertwee's off his game in this one, although I liked the very last scene where Pertwee grins as the Doc looks forward to another battle with the Master. There's a reprisal of a similar scene in ep 3 of Spearhead, complete with smoking TARDIS. This time, the Doc acts like a spoiled brat. Worked better in Spearhead with his sheepish response to Liz's anger.

I mentioned the abrupt change of heart the Master has in the climax. Abruptness abounds in Terror, as scenes seem to end too soon, key moments are glossed over with a couple shots, and the editing adds a choppy quailty to the whole serial.

As a rule, I don't complain about effects much in serials. It's part of the charm of Who, but mention must be made of the CSO cavalcade in Terror. I have a feeling it was done in the name of cost-cutting. Bad CSO comes with the territory, but the sheer volume of its use in Terror causes it to stand out moreso.

Terror seems to be a transition story, with some elements having the weight of the previous season, but nods to a cartoonish, lighter future. Jo Grant is one. The shouting Birgadier is another nod. And although the Master is great in his debut story, there's a moment in ep four where we have the first "I'm going to kill you, but gloat long enough for you to weasel out of it" scene.

Final Verdict? As I said in the beginning, Terror of the Autons is a mixed bag. Watch it for Big Roger Delgado. He's the best part of the story.


A Review by Robert Edwardson 25/3/03

This is my personal favourite of the Pertwee era... or indeed ANY era of Doctor Who. What makes this the best - in my opinion? Well, let's start with the cast.

The Doctor: One word - Superb. Okay here are some more... Now visibly much more comfortable in the role of Doctor #3 , he starts to inject a little more humour into the part - admittedly, on some occasions overstepping the mark. The shot where he kicks (Laurel and Hardy style) the TARDIS when it malfunctions is particularly cringe-inducing. That said, I though Pertwee took himself far too seriously in the previous season so it was good to see the Doctor still possessed some of the 'clown' aspect so prevalent in the earlier Troughton episodes.

Jo Grant: Fresh-faced and bubbling over with enthusiasm, the fact that she was literally new to the show, erm shows! She lights up every scene she appears in. This is especially noticeable after Liz Shaw's stern headmistress-style companion. Its really nice to see the 'perils of Pauline companion appear again. She acts the part almost exactly like Victoria (minus the whining) who was played by Deborah Watling.

The Brigadier: Good old Brig. Now out of the romper suit he wore in Season 7 (okay geeks - and The Invasion!) he seems much more military, and less like a glorified traffic policeman. Nick Courtney softens a little - which in turn starts the Doctor/Brig 'special relationship' (oo-er) that we've heard so much about! In other words, the Brig can't stand the Doctor's insolence when he's around him, but obviously admires his nerve and intelligence - trusting him to come up with the solution time and time again.

Captain Mike Yates: The new boy in town - intended as a love interest for Jo, apparently! Why she would have liked this wet-behind-the-ears public schoolboy... Davros knows? Although Richard Franklin is a very pleasant and likeable person, I've always found the character of Yates about as tough as a over ripe pear! Okay, so he improves in subsequent stories (and I actually found myself feeling sorry for him at the end of Invasion of the Dinosaurs) but throughout TOTA's, he just looks to weedy to be barking out orders!

Sgt Benton: My personal favourite 'Companion'. For someone who freely admits to not being able to act - John Levene is actually very good. He delivers his lines with a nicely understated fashion.

The Master: What I like to think of as the shot of adrenaline for Doctor Who. After years of gradual decline (ooh controversial!) the series took a bold move into the action-speaks-louder-than-words department. What Season 7 lacked - I feel, was a really villainous, erm villain. Cue, Roger Delgado. The thinking man's Bin Laden. Forever hatching plots to dominate the world, but always taking time to humiliate the Doctor, just before he 'attempts' to kill him. Roger was not the only actor to play the Master, but that's exactly what he became... the Master.

On to the actual story. Imagine Spearhead from Space. Add a couple of hundred cans of brightly coloured paint, generous portions of CSO (blue-screen) and more than a pinch of super-villainy. What you're left with is a killer script, which is obviously rehashed from SFS, but with the additions of the above AND the fact it's not solely recorded on film, adds an entirely different - much warmer atmosphere to the proceedings.

The standout scenes are probably:

The initial appearance of the Master - "Why you insolent primitive!"

The scenes in the quarry, where an Auton is hit by a speeding car and thrown down a steep bank, only to immediately get up and resume its "Terror" - this is pure Terminator in style.

How about when The Doctor and the Brig search Thermo Plastics head office? I wonder what they keep in such a large safe?

Oh, and who can forget the Auton "Troll Doll" which comes to life when it is warmed-up on the radiator? Bzzzzz! "John, are you all right? arrgghhh!!!" Poor old Mrs Farrell and her unfeasibly large CSO kitchen! Classic stuff!

Jesting aside, I think a great deal of the success of TOTA's comes from the quality of the script. This is of no surprise, as the legendary Robert Holmes penned this story. He wrote some classic Whos, and I think anyone who (like me) prefers the seventies stories would certainly have a few of Holmes stories in their top five. In addition to this, Terrance Dicks (acting as Script Editor) has obviously "loosened" everything up a little. Characters seem to fade into a scene, deliver their lines, and fade out again. There's no sledgehammer tactics deployed here. Perhaps Messes Holmes and Dicks were taking something "herbal" at the time? I know not!

To conclude: This story does not require one to be a member of MENSA to follow the plot. It doesn't. And it most certainly doesn't take itself too seriously. What it does to, is deliver an almost perfect "escapist" 90 minutes. Sit back, relax and watch Terror of the Autons in its full (restored) glory. I know you won't be disappointed!


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/8/03

Terror Of The Autons marks the change that would set the tone for the majority of the Pertwee era, as season eight is more "cosy" than the gritty season seven, even if some of the realism still remains. Terror Of The Autons marks a number of firsts in terms of regular appearances and the most effective of these is Roger Delgado`s Master, whose presence commands the audience. Equally effective although not yet fully settled in her role is Katy Manning as Jo Grant. She starts off promisingly however, and there are hints of what is to come.

The Autons also return here, but are less effective than their debut partly, because of the reliance on everyday objects to menace, as opposed to the Autons themselves. Similairly the plot is too easily resolved as the Doctor merely tells the Master to send the Nestenes away, without actually having to defeat them. In short, then it's not the best story, memorable for its use of everyday objects and the new regulars more than anything else.


Rapt in Plastic by Andrew Wixon 26/4/04

Terror of the Autons doesn't have much of a plot. But in any creative undertaking some things are bound to take priority over others, and given all the other things Terror sets out to do, it's hardly surprising that the storyline isn't as fleshed-out as it might be. The returning monsters themselves don't get much attention either: almost as if they're only there as a reassuring reference point for Season Seven viewers wondering if this is really still the same show.

Because, first off, Terror is a pretty much root-and-branch reformat of the Pertwee era. Well, maybe not a reformat as such, but a total rethink of tone and style. Where Spearhead From Space was clinical, restrained, and naturalistic, this is lurid, gaudy and cartoonish. The UNIT family are all in place, the Doctor is suddenly a rather annoyingly loud and arrogant figure to whom nobody can stand up (the Brigadier begins his transformation to comic stooge here), and - of course - he gets to do his set-piece 'give the civil servants a hard time' schtick.

Part and parcel of all this is the introduction of the Master. The first episode in particular pulls out all the stops to make him an impressive and notable supervillain, and it's interesting that the story keeps him and the Doctor well apart until the final episode, perhaps realising that as soon as they meet the Master's aura of irresistible menace must necessarily be partly dispelled. Roger Delgado is easily up to the task of playing such a one-dimensional character.

Quite how much of Terror's clear ambition to scare the piss out of every child watching it came from the script brief, and how much we have to thank the twisted psyche of Robert Holmes for, I've no idea. But this is a story going all out to frighten - there are some of the series' most memorable frighteners here: the armchair, the doll, the Auton police, the deadly daffs. Complaints are quite understandable with the benefit of hindsight.

And there are some quite good action sequences in the last couple of episodes, too. The story as a whole isn't quite as exciting as the novelisation suggests, but it is colourful and brash and cheery, all the elements mentioned above jostling together pacily to hide the lack of actual plot and character (the only real character other than the regulars is Rex Farrel, a bit of a cypher but well-played by Michael Wisher). This was the last Jo Grant story I saw - but oddly enough, it still seems fresher and more enjoyable than many of the others.


"I am known as the Master! Universally!" by Joe Ford 10/5/04

Riding high on the success of season seven, is this where the Pertwee era went wrong? To answer that question depends on what your personal view of Doctor Who is, whether you watch it for simple entertainment or what to look into it a bit more deeply than that. Is this story actually inferior to the four produced the year before? Yes and no, certainly it lacks the intelligence and feeling of realism generated by Pertwee's initial year being in itself a comic book copy of his debut story Spearhead from Space but I genuinely feel if Doctor Who had continued in this seven part, crushingly real format the show would have died in a few years. I personally prefer the early Pertwee stuff (Inferno and The Silurians are his two best stories) and shake my head with despair when I compare it to later 'romps' such as The Time Monster and Monster of Peladon but I am not blind to the fact that season eight received about a third more viewing figures than the year before and that the audiences were dwindling when asked to follow such gritty epics with little in the way of light relief. Inferno plummeted to roughly five million per episode, a stellar story it may be but not entirely suited to its time slot and audience, The Three Doctors however, a travesty of a production in all respects especially the insulting dumbing down of the scripts was receptive of about ten million plus per episode. The numbers speak for themselves really. You could perhaps argue that Terror of the Autons and story of this ilk were responsible for the shows survival way into the future.

The story itself is something of a controversial one with a reputation for being one of the scariest pieces of Doctor Who you are likely to find because of the mass nightmares it was causing the kiddies of the era to have. To be honest I am not sure where this reputation comes from as it pales into insignificance compared to the horrific delights of the previous year. Dr Lawrence struggling to survive with a deadly virus and a ruined career bursting into the Brigadier's office and attempting to strangle him before suffering a heart attack... that is what I call scary. A troll doll coming alive and killing an old fart, that's just comic book violence that any old show churned out. But then again this is a symptom of the dumbing down of the show, much of the 'horrific' material featured in this story could have been terrifying: fake policemen with guns in their hands, grinning carnival masks gunning down soldiers, asphyxiation by an everyday object. It's clear that Robert Holmes wants to scare the crap out of you but Barry Letts, perhaps a little too sensitive to the reactions of the children/parents (Hinchcliffe certainly did not let it stop him!) manages to weaken its effect with his unsubtle direction. Come on, that doll is obviously struggling up on a backdrop. The twisting daffodil was so ridiculous it was later used as a 'hidden microphone' gag in 'Allo 'Allo! And as for the policemen, you can even see the black Auton eyes under the bloody rubber mask! The kids of the seventies were either very thin-skinned or very stupid. But then taken in this light Terror of the Autons can be a highly enjoyable story and one that bravely forges a brand new Doctor Who genre, the comic strip adventure later to be utilised by Planet of the Daleks, Robot, Revenge of the Cybermen, Paradise Towers... stories that are not very well achieved because of their vibrancy, colour and hysterical melodrama. But viewed in context, as witty and imaginative pieces of television that are under no obligation but to entertain they can be rather fun if you are in the right mood (except Revenge which is just PANTS!).

The biggest indication of this child-friendly Doctor Who is the introduction of the Master, easily the most ridiculous and wasted character in the entire series. Here was a chance for the Doctor to meet his match, a fellow Time Lord but one who took the opposite moral view and set about corrupting the universe rather than protecting it. It could have been delicious. But instead Terrance ("lets a have a jolly old romp") Dicks and Barry Letts created a comic book creation to fill their comic book story, one who wears phoney disguises, hypnotises people, utilises alien menaces rather than carry out his own plans, has a satanic beard and calls himself 'the Master'!!! The use of subtlety in devising such a villain is astonishing. It is such a shame that the Master should be created for such a simple-brained audience because his character never had a chance to mature into anything interesting, instead he was beamed over to 80's Who and looked/sounded/acted exactly as he did here when major re-invention was required (and only achieved twice with The Deadly Assassin and Survival thanks to the experimental script editors).

That the Master makes quite an impression in this story despite this list of drawbacks in mainly due to the exceptional talents of scriptwriter Robert Holmes and performer Roger Delgado. Holmes knows how to write for villains and always keeps the Master this side of pantoland, ensuring we can see he has a sharp mind and a flair for wit despite his absurd characterisation. Delgado was a Godsend in all respects; he looked the part for a start and carried the role with oodles of charm and charisma that transcended the weaker aspects of the role. I just love it when he kills that guy in his chewy plastic chair and makes a joke about his passing. And his claim "Death is more frightening when it strikes invisibly" carries a lingering threat better than the entire story.

Other aspects of the show that are visibly revised are the characterisation of the Doctor but this is one area that the show manages to improve on. Pertwee was certainly a shock success in season seven and delivered some damn good performances despite the fact that his character was written as some sort of unlikable, conservative politician. Rarely was the Doctor as rude or dismissive as he was in season seven and season eight sees the lighter, fluffier third Doctor step into the light.

Don't get me wrong he can still be very sarcastic ("Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms!"), impolite ("Who's in charge of you pen pushers these days?") and impatient ("I'll have a properly qualified scientist!") but there is more of a twinkle in his eye when he is. Weaning off his rougher edges is mainly thanks to new assistant Jo; in sharp contrast to scientist Liz she blunders into his life and gets into all sorts of trouble. This gives the Doctor a more fatherly role, he is far more concerned for Jo than he ever was for Liz and there is an intimacy there that glows on the screen and allows Pertwee to soften his character. His blossoming relationship with Lethbridge-Stewart could also be seen as a development of sorts, they still bicker and fight like two kids who both want to be in charge of the gang but now there is affection, warmth between them. The Brigadier clearly trusts the Doctor implicitly and the Doctor has adjusted to his status as scientific advisor, no longer walking off to parts unknown at the end of each story. Add Mike Yates to the mix as the elder brother to Lethbridge-Stewart' friendly uncle and you have the beginnings of a family (with Benton as the bland cousin that nobody likes!). UNIT may not have the cold efficiency of last year but they are lot more fun to be around. The unbearably sugar sweet familiarity of their chemistry has yet to set in.

Even the Autons are given a fresh lick of paint in their second appearance, rather than the silent nightmarish creatures of Spearhead from Space they now speak; wear bright clothes and disguises that wouldn't fool a four year old. Holmes doesn't even bother to think up a new plot, much more concerned with the incidentals to hold up the story (the introduction of Jo, Yates and the Master!) with the monsters just there to remind this story is Doctor Who. Had this been just a transitions story with no plot to back it up it would have become quite dull indeed, so some fun battles (the Auton who falls down the sheer drop and gets up again straight away is scary as hell and the climatic gunplay remains exciting to this day) and twists (Jo has been hypnotised! She's trying to blow up the Doctor! The Master has shrunk his victims!) help the story chug along. The Autons are nowhere near as effective as they are in their debut but the story would be in a sorry state without them.

Boosting the comic strip feel is the comic strip realisation of the story, which deploys a vista of CSO landscapes to convince the story has incredible scope and budget (it doesn't). We have a museum, a warehouse, a lunchbox, several car journeys, a front room, a kitchen, a pylon office... I'm sure I've missed some there but you get my drift. Hell they could have told the story in CSO stills with speech bubbles the amount of actual filming they did!!! It fails to convince anywhere, the actors too prominent and the background fuzzy and blurred. Not good.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that I don't like this story but I am understandably biased considering the powerful dramas in season seven. I am MORE often in the mood to watch Terror of the Autons than anything from season seven because this is more what I associate with Doctor Who of this period than those four stories. But it did represent a step down in quality in both content and production, both amateurish and unsatisfying.

This story is a lot of fun. But ultimately does that make it any good? Beats me...


The Taming of the Autons by Brett Walther 1/10/04

I'm going to go out on a limb here and proclaim Terror of the Autons as the low point of Season Eight. After the giddy heights of Season Seven -- surely one of the series' most exceptional runs -- Terror sees Doctor Who descend into its most childish and pedestrian.

Terror of the Autons is probably Holmes' weakest script, barring The Space Pirates, of course. Apart from the Master's scheme to lure the Nestene to Earth, this is four episodes of the Master planting various bombs on the Doctor. Okay, so one's a grenade, another's a volatizer... They all go boom, at the very least.

Somewhat ironically, given that it's his introductory vehicle, the only thing more shallow than the plot is the character of the Master. Rarely has a villain who's given an introduction in a Holmes vehicle failed to impress quite like the Master. If Roger Delgado hadn't been the pro that he was, and given all his energy to the portrayal of the character, I would find it easy to actively despise this creation. Rather, the Master induces a form of apathy in the viewer, largely because he's such an unambitious concept. It's simply not enough to have a villain whose soul motivation is to "menace" the hero. Unfortunately, there's not much else to the Master in terms of motivation than that.

Even in this, the Master's first appearance, it's impossible to take him seriously, given his numerous wasted opportunities to kill the Doctor and the reliance on tried-and-true villainous cliches like the Master's use of hypnotism and disguises, and this "villain by numbers" even makes its presence apparent in the Master's costume design. Frankly, the Master is nothing we haven't seen before in a hundred other films and television programs, and the production team haven't even been bothered to throw a spin on a tired character-type.

Keeping the Autons in the background and giving them the ability to speak are both monumental mistakes. The scariest thing about Spearhead from Space was neither Channing nor the replicas -- it was the blank-faced, mute mannequin running through the forest and attacking Meg Seely. The only sequence in Terror that comes close to capturing the... erm... terror of Spearhead from Space are the early moments of Part Three in the quarry. The unmasked Auton policeman's stunt fall off the cliff face is truly spectacular. But even then, his inflated condom face isn't as creepy as the mannequin masks from Spearhead, and the grinning carnival masks are a bit of a wasted opportunity. It would've been much scarier if they'd done them up as real clowns, wouldn't it? Heck, it would've even tied in the entirely superfluous circus-setting of Parts One and Two.

The abominable visuals fail to raise Terror into the realm of believability for even a moment. The combination of tacky set design (has any Doctor Who used burnt yellows and oranges to such an extent? Ghastly!) and over-use of CSO conspire to make Terror a visual cack-fest. The troll doll, as well, which could have been nightmarish, is utterly unconvincing and fails to convey any threat at all. It looks highly immobile, especially in the unintentionally hilarious bits when it's required to run.

Furthermore, Katy Manning is merely adequate in her first outing as Jo Grant. Her initial meeting with the Doctor is the only point in the entire script where Holmes is on form, and sparkles with a hint of chemistry. It's too bad that after this story (barring some exceptions in Season Ten), Jo lost her coy banter and self-awareness ("I didn't say I passed..."), because without it, there's just the two-dimensional blonde.

The degeneration of Pertwee's Doctor also sets in here, with his last line of dialogue being appallingly inappropriate, indicating that "he's quite looking forward" to encountering the Master again. This comes across as extremely callous and trivializes the massacre of UNIT soldiers in the scene just prior. But this single line of dialogue sets the tone for the rest of Season Eight at the very least -- a silly game. I know this line was altered at the last minute, with the original line being much more sinister, to the effect of the Doctor acknowledging that his battle with the Master will only end when one of them is dead, but this is just another example of a program that has been watered down beyond recognition and devoid of any sense of drama.

4/10


A Review by Brian May 22/9/05

To get the most out of Terror of the Autons, watch it in black and white. I assure you, it's the only way. The colourisation on the video release shows up all the dreadful CSO - but nowadays, what with these new-fangled tellies, there's the assumption nobody cares about monochrome anymore, so we no longer have the option of turning down the colour. At least we Australians had it lucky; for its latest repeat on terrestrial television (in 2004) the black and white print was used - and definitely for the better.

Ah, CSO! - long a cause of embarrassment for Doctor Who apologists. Of course, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and on occasions it's not that bad - and there are really only two instances when it's completely ruined a story: 1978's Underworld and this one. It's used for everything - some backdrops are understandable given the budget (outside the radio telescope, especially for the hovering Time Lord, the scenes with the doll), but there are some bizarre ones - the interiors of the museum, the research lab, cars and... a kitchen??? If they couldn't afford a kitchen set, surely they could have popped over to a crewmember's house for half an hour's shooting? Anyway, the black and white version hides most of these deficiencies, while the colourisation shows them at their worst.

Whatever the format, the whole story has a comic book feel (although accentuated in colour). For really that's what Terror of the Autons is; a brisk, fast-paced action adventure, with little substance or mood, especially when contrasted against the bleak, stylish and mature season 7. It's not comparable at all to the first Auton story, Spearhead from Space - it can't be called a sequel, for while it's glossed up and more light-hearted, the plot is exactly the same. The title is inappropriate - there's no terror here, as opposed to Spearhead, which was genuinely horrific. The Autons are less threatening, especially as one is given a voice that depicts them more like robotic baddies than the silent killers of the original tale.

Barry Letts had begun to realise his vision of a cosier series here, doing away with the feel of season 7 and introducing the "UNIT family". Jo Grant, Captain Mike Yates and the Master all make their debuts, and the Doctor's laboratory now has a real loungeroom feel, with the regulars "hanging out" (doesn't Captain Yates have any work to do?) Richard Franklin's first appearance is an underwhelming one, but the blandness of the character doesn't help him. Jo is spirited and enthusiastic but inexperienced, paralleling Katy Manning's performance exactly. Her character is precisely the companion that Letts wanted; out with the capable, independent Liz Shaw, in with the ditzy, scatterbrained young girl who would constantly need rescuing. The third debutant, Roger Delgado, is excellent as the Master, a less than perfect character. We've heard it all before; Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes, the arch-villain with ridiculous schemes etc, but Delgado gives the role a relish and gusto that's magnificent.

But what's happened to the Doctor? This story sees the Time Lord at his most arrogant. I don't know if Jon Pertwee did this deliberately or not, but he's given us a Doctor that's thoroughly unpleasant. True, in season seven he made snide remarks, but only to people who deserved them (Lawrence in Silurians, Stahlman in Inferno). But in this story he insults, or is just plain brusque, to Jo, the Brigadier and Benton; he ignores the perfectly polite radio telescope director and is unnecessarily rude to Brownrose. The latter is one of the many civil servants that appeared during this era, but he's the least offensive of them. His "I like being childish!" is incredibly, er, childish, and when his attempt to jump the Master fails, the Doctor leaps back with a cowardly "Don't shoot!" True, he can't bring himself to tell Jo he doesn't want her as his assistant, but this doesn't count for much, when he's so nasty everywhere else.

There are some fine guest performances. Michael Wisher is excellent as Farrel, while Harry Towb as McDermott and John Baskcomb as Rossini are both very good. On the opposite end of the scale, the actors who play Farrel's parents are atrocious. Barry Letts's direction is pedestrian. The plastic chair smothering McDermott is a creepily fantastic scene, but the rest is flat. The shootout in the quarry in episode three is memorable due to the stuntman's unplanned, but quite spectacular, tumble down the cliff-face more than anything else. The rest is a combination of bad editing and uninspired (and quite weird) camera angles. It's not Robert Holmes's best script; as mentioned, it's no more than a rehash of Spearhead. There's a smattering of his trademark sparkling dialogue, especially in the Doctor/Rossini verbal slanging match, but it's few and far between. The Master's first plan is one of his daftest; his failure to see the outcome is stupid on his part, and the resolution is very anti-climactic.

And there is one truly dreadful moment, one that I can't tolerate and it has Terrance Dicks written all over it. The Doctor's first scene; he's inside the TARDIS, singing "I don't want to set the world on fire!" just before an explosion sees him scuttle out, spluttering and coughing. An attempted joke, obviously. But why is he singing this? What happened to him in the previous story, Inferno? He did see a world on fire. He saw the parallel Earth consumed in flames. After Autons, in The Mind of Evil, the Doctor recounts these events and how they've affected him. He now fears fire to the point that it almost kills him. This scene ignores the continuity; making a lame stab at humour that insults the great drama from the stories either side.

But there's one thing you can't accuse the story of being - slow. It moves at a quick pace, and episode three is jam-packed. This brings us back to the comic strip comparison - for it is one fast moving graphic novel. Viewing it this way, Terror of the Autons is very entertaining. From this perspective, it's an enjoyable piece of Doctor Who. And despite its low points, it's never terrible. Don't watch it if you're expecting to see the programme at his best. Don't watch it for depth, profundity or any peaks of acting, writing or technical achievement. But if you're in the mood for a mindless comic-book adventure - and admit it, we're all like this from time to time - then Terror of the Autons is an excellent choice. 5.5/10


A Review by Steve Cassidy 28/3/06

Cast your mind back to your childhood.

Cast your mind back when everything was new and interesting. When a walk to the shops became an adventure, when a push on the swings became a thrill, when the dog returning with a stick was a big excitement. Cast your mind back when you watched TV. Remember the feeling of nervousness when something adult came on, remember the feeling of unease when something on the screen wasn't turning out the way you though it would. I get the same feeling with my four year old niece nowadays. We watched TV and a baby elephant was left behind by its mother. I saw her quiver, shake and tears come to her eyes the way it used to happened to me all those many years ago.

Because Terror of the Autons is best not viewed through modern eyes. It is best viewed as it was meant to be viewed back in 1971 - as something that somehow scared the kids between Grandstand and the six o'clock news. And I can see how it did scare back then when I look at it as if a child would look at it - killer daffodils, a chair which swallows and smothers people, strangulating telephone cord and an ugly rubber toy which gets up, runs at you and then sinks its fangs into you throat. I can imagine my niece looking nervously at her dolls in the corner.

That's not to say it isn't a good adventure in 2006. Its one of those rock-hard Pertwees which has become a minor legend. It's a very tight little script that plays on the fear of everyday objects turning on you. It's the kind of horror that would become the norm with Hollywood a few years down the line; in fact Terror of the Autons has a kind of B-movie schlock that you either love or hate but fits in with the Who formula very well. But there is a lightness of touch that wasn't there the previous season. The previous season was as hard as nails: death was occuring on a massive scale, you came away stunned at the apocolyptic or genocidal nature of the stories. The international peril is still there but made palatable by the UNIT family. The Barry Letts era really kickstarts right here.

I must admit - not popular I know - but season 8 is my favourite Pertwee season. It's just so imaginative: killer dolls, mind parasites, psychedelic aliens, the devil appearing in an English village. Of course, I can imagine you thinking already - what about Colony in Space? Well, I admit is a chore to wade through, but hasn't every season got its clunker? Most seasons after 1981 are lucky if they get away with just one. At the start of the season Terror of the Autons grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn't let go. I can't imagine the impact this story had in 1971, in the tight cosy world of British early seventies television where the testcard was shown until 4.00pm and the national anthem played each night at 11.15pm. This must have been like being doused with cold water.

A lot of its success is down to Robert Holmes. Holmes takes the ordinary and puts his own horrific spin on it. One of my favourites is the goings-on at the plastics factory. With a few lines we get the way the factory is run which makes the characters stand out and their demises seem more horrific. The father has dragged the factory up from nothing and is enjoying his retirement. Everything is left in the hands of his son, with strict instructions to carry on as before. You can imagine forty years of work at the factory being put in jepoardy with the arrival of Roger Delgado. You can almost smell the suspicion in the air when he shares a scene with the other characters. And there is a lovely small part for Harry Towb as McDermott. A man who knows how the factory is run, back to front, and is not fooling for this Colonel Masters nonsense. Of course he features in the famous "chair scene" which he likens to looking like "black pudding" in his Ulster brogue. Harry Towb only appears in two scenes but the character is so well written that he sticks in your memory and his death, though ridiculous to adult eyes, must have made an impact at the time.

It's almost as famous for being the Master's first story and I would put this along with the Hartnell, Pertwee, Troughton, Sladen and Tom Baker castings as the best in the series. First of all is the look of Roger Delgado, that Spanish lineage gives him an exotic look: saturnine skin, deep brown eyes and whiskers and goatee beard just greying at the edges. The production team must have been rubbing their hands with glee at the thought at what they could do with this character/actor. Here he is at his most menacingly persuasive, the archetypical "brains over brawn" villain. A lot of effort is made to make him distinctive: the weapon that shrinks people, the horsebox TARDIS, although the Blofeld-type Mao suit just tips into Bond villain territory just that tiny bit too much. And we also get his first meeting with the third Doctor. There is no great buildup to this and there is so much going on in the episode that his startling appearance in the Doctor's UNIT lab with a gun in his hand comes as quite a surprise. The only thing which doesn't work even at this early stage is the mandatory "switching of sides" once he realises he cannot control his latest ally. The reasons for doing so are lame but not enough to detract from the episode. So all in all, the Delgado Master gets a good introduction in this episode and whets out appetites for more.

Another first is the inclusion of Josephine Grant. In retrospect, as much as I love Liz Shaw, it was the right decision. Liz Shaw gives a large smack in the face for any Channel 4 "100 Best" show where a talking head who says the Who companions were dollybirds who were there to just scream. Unfortunately, that is necessary. If you get a character that reacts to the situation around her you can double the dramatic tension. What is better for drama? A character who screams or one who takes it in her stride? . Dramatically, you can do much more with Katy Manning/Jo Grant then you can from the Doctor in Cambridge. That's not to say I don't miss her; I think she was a fine companion and the scenes in Silurians where she is trying to find an antidote to the reptile plague are some of the best scenes given to a companion EVER. As for Jo Grant? Well, she must have seemed a step backwards at the time but she does good work here. The beginnings of the relationship with Pertwee can be seen here and we get the obligatory hypnotism by the Master out the way in the first episode. And her being smothered by a plastic daffodil is one of the series most ridiculous scenes on paper but brought to life horrifically by Pertwee and Manning.

The Doctor retains his sharp edges as he did from season 7. Personally, I love this: his impotence at being stuck on Earth is really beginning to chafe now. He bites, barks and snaps at almost anyone in sight with the Brigadier getting the majority of the flak. UNIT is still a proper paramilitary organisation with what looks like some expensive Thames-side property to hide its laborotory. Perhaps it's the numerous explosions in the riverwater and the residents' complaints that move them to the latest "hush hush" site in The Claws of Axos.

Terror of the Autons is a brisk script and serves as a good introduction to the Master. It perhaps isn't as deep as other adventures but it moves along quickly from one imaginative death to the other. It seems to be a number of set pieces wonderfully strung along just to scare the children. And since we know that was one of Robert Holmes' main pleasures in his working life I think we can tell where he is coming from.

Terror of the Autons doesn't say things like The Green Death or Silurians, but for a certain generation this wasy Who at its scariest. Its' Robert Holmes excercising his imagination. And the leading man is on top form.

There are just times in life when only a Pertwee adventure will do...